Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sermon: Trinity 10 – 2016

31 July 2016

Text: Luke 19:41-48

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

One of the charges against our Lord Jesus that got Him in trouble with the Romans was this false story that Jesus was threatening to destroy the Temple.  Our Lord’s enemies were trying desperately to get Him in trouble with the Romans so that they could execute Him, and one way to do that would be to portray Him as a revolutionary, a rabble-rousing zealot who wants to blow things up and overthrow the government: in other words, a terrorist.

In fact, when Jesus spoke about rebuilding the Temple three days after its destruction, He was referring to the Temple of His own body.  But a rumor got started that Jesus was threatening to destroy the Jewish Temple as some kind of terrorist plot.

And maybe His prayer recorded in our Gospel lesson was twisted and distorted to promote this false narrative.  For Jesus is prophesying not only the destruction of the Temple: “And they will not leave one stone upon another in you because you did not know the time of your visitation,” but also of “the city” – that is Jerusalem itself.  For Jesus draws near and sees the city, and “weeps over it.”  He laments, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side.”

Jesus is describing a military maneuver known as the siege.  The Romans were good at sieges, in which a city is surrounded.  Nothing goes in or out.  And gradually, a city has to surrender because it is starving and lacking water.  This process often takes years, but it is very effective.

And our Lord’s prophecy came true about forty years after He spoke this prayer.  In the year 66, the Jewish zealots revolted, and the Romans laid siege to the City.  In the year 70, the Romans entered Jerusalem and attacked it ruthlessly, flattening the Temple.  It has never been rebuilt to this day.  Not one stone stands upon another.

After reporting on this prophecy, St. Luke tells us that our Lord entered the Temple and drove off the merchants, saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’”

And so when they were groping around for some imperial crime to pin on Jesus, treason and terrorism, supported by provocative speech and actions regarding the Temple, was seen as a solution. 

Ironically, our Lord did not destroy the Temple, nor Jerusalem.  In fact, in His knowledge of these events yet to come, Jesus weeps for the city.  He loves the city.  He loves the chosen people of God.  But they did not love Him, for they “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”

So what brought on this shocking destruction of Jerusalem and the toppling of the ancient treasure that was the holy Jewish Temple?  One could argue that the Romans – whose bloodthirsty legions under General Titus – who was later to become Caesar – were to blame in their lust for domination and power.  One could also argue that agitators and rebels among the Jews, the party of the Zealots, were responsible by their rioting.  But there is a much more basic reason: sin.

For in rejecting their visitation, the Herodian kings, the Sanhedrin, the priests, the Levites, the Temple police, the Temple merchants, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, the Essenes, the scribes, the “principal men of the people” and finally, most rank and file Jews “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”  Their God, their Messiah, their Savior, the living embodiment of their sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, the living bread from heaven, had come to visit them – and the vast majority of them rejected Him.

And like a terminal patient who refuses life-saving treatment, there was nothing to do but watch the people die – while all the while, the cure was in their midst, visiting them.

Thus Jesus weeps at what is to come.

Of course, Luke doesn’t record this to give us an interesting history lesson or a classical study in military tactics.  The Evangelist isn’t reporting this for the sake of giving us a sense of superiority over the Jews, nor hatred for the Romans, nor to teach us about politics, nor to encourage us to scold people that they should have listened to Jesus.  No indeed.  We have heard this Word of God yet again, dear friends, right here and right now, because we need to hear and to heed the Lord’s warning.

For God’s people can stumble and fall away.  God’s people can become ignorant of their time of visitation.  God’s people can put more faith in their leaders or their politics or their own status as God’s people than in Jesus Himself, who comes to visit us, to call us to repent, to forgive us, to make us new, and to dwell with us in Word and Sacrament.

For like our Lord’s listeners, we have many distractions.  Like the first century Greco-Roman Jews, we have the circus of politics.  We have theaters and sports.  We have shopping malls.  We have road-trips and getaways.  We have money and families and jobs.  We have our own reputations and self-esteem.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with these things, so long as they don’t interfere with, or eclipse, what is truly important: that we recognize the time of our visitation from our Lord Himself.

Jesus continues to visit us, dear brothers and sisters.  I am not giving you a history lesson today, but the very Word of God.  Jesus is not telling us what we want to hear, but telling us what we need to hear: that we are sinners in danger of hellfire, and that we are sinners for whom He gave His lifeblood at the cross.  He calls us to repent and believe the Gospel, to fix our eyes upon Him.  He calls to know and live out our visitation.  He bids us to take and eat, and to receive the gift of eternal life, of the promise of the resurrection in a new heaven and a new earth.  He invites us to this House of Prayer where He visits us, and He turns our lowly flesh into Temples of the Holy Spirit.  And though our flesh will die, we will live yet again according to His promise and His baptism that He has given us as part of this “visitation” of which He speaks.

Dear friends, our Lord warns us and He invites us: to pray, to study and meditate upon His Word, to live out the forgiven baptized life, to confess our sins and receive absolution, and to receive His bodily visitation in Holy Communion. 

For we do not have Romans seeking to besiege us, but we have rather the far more dangerous and cruel world, devil, and sinful nature.  But Jesus has visited us, dear friends, and He is our impregnable wall and mighty fortress!  He is our food and drink, our sustenance, our defense, and our life.  He is our victory!  And even as “Jerusalem” means the “City of Peace,” our congregation’s name “Salem” is the part of the word “Jerusalem” that means “Peace.”  The peace that stands in stark contrast to warfare and destruction and rebellion and the attacks of the devil, the peace that passes all understanding, is ours, dear brothers and sisters, by Him who is the very prince of Peace, through His visitation, and by His grace, by His blood, and by His cross. 

Peace be with you in this time of your visitation!  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 9 – 2016

27 July 2016

Text: Luke 16:1-13 (2 Sam 22:26-34, 1 Cor 10:6-13)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Trouble comes to us in this fallen world, and sometimes very quickly.  And nobody is exempt.  You may enjoy perfect health, but that will fail.  And it could happen suddenly.  Your family relationships may be perfect, but they can sour in a moment.  You may be at the top of your game in terms of your job, but out of nowhere, downsizing and layoffs can and do come.

Father Jacques Hamel, a Roman Catholic priest in Normandy, France, lived a quiet life as a retired pastor.  He served the same parish for over 30 years.  Though 86 years old, he was still able to conduct the liturgy and preach.  He was beloved in the community and lived a peaceful life – until yesterday.  During the church service that he was leading, ISIS terrorists stormed in and beheaded the pastor, took hostages, and killed and wounded parishioners.  All in a few minutes.

Remember, we live in a fallen world.  We are mortal.  And no matter how well things are going, they will not always be this way.  We cover this reality up by escapism: turning our work and money and family and prosperity and entertainment into gods.  We avoid uncomfortable subjects and convince ourselves that no harm will come to us.

But it inevitably does.

And Jesus tells us Christians that we are often stupid about it.  He tells us that we can learn a thing or two from the crooks of this world, who though they are crooked, are often wiser in confronting reality than we are.

So, he tells us a story about this guy who had a great life.  He was a manager.  His boss was rich.  And in fact, the manager’s life was even more luxurious because he was a crook.  He treated the boss’s assets like they were his own and wasted them.  Of course, he never thought he would get caught, but he did.  He thought the gravy train would run forever, but it didn’t.

He got word that he was being fired.  “What shall I do,” he asked himself, “since my master is taking the management away from me?”  He didn’t want to dig ditches, and he was too proud to beg.  So this shrewd crook came up with a plan: he had meetings with people who could help him later on, and cut deals with them.  He did nice things for the very people who could do nice things back to him.  Thus the crooked manager arranged for his own soft landing after being fired.

Of course, he was still cheating his boss right up to the bitter end, but even the boss was amazed, and “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  The dishonest manager knew where to turn in order to get what he didn’t deserve and to receive that which he did not earn.

Jesus is telling us that we Christians are foolish.  For we know that tough times will come to us – even if all is well now.  We are surrounded by a world of evil, and we are harassed by the devil and betrayed by our own sinful nature.  We have relationships that go awry, bodies that wear out, we have jobs that disappear, money that dries up, social and political security that can vanish in a moment.  Our money won’t save us, our entertainments won’t prevent our suffering, our friends and family may even betray us.  We might even find ourselves at the point of a Muslim sword one day.

And even if we live an enchanted and wealthy life until we are 120 years old, our bodies will decline and we will die.  We may live long, but we will then outlive our loved ones. 

And so what shall we do, dear friends?

Jesus is telling us to be shrewd.  Not dishonest, but shrewd.  Where do we turn to for help? 

Like the dishonest manager, we should know where to go in order to get what we don’t deserve, and to receive that which he we do not earn.  And more than just knowing, we ought to act shrewdly on this knowledge. 

For where, dear friends, can you go to have your bill torn up, to have your debts forgiven, to be received into a house as a guest, to be fed without paying, and to have your own acts of crookedness and dishonesty covered up? 

The truly shrewd sinner makes friends with the one who can give him that which he doesn’t deserve and hasn’t earned.  That is called grace. And it comes as a free gift of God.  It was earned at the cross and given to you by means of love.  It is handed over to you in the form of a torn-up bill and a debt forgiven.  You are welcomed under this roof and invited to this table.  You are washed by baptismal water, and you are received into the eternal dwellings by the very Christ who shrewdly defeated the devil and won for you the perfect and eternal life that is elusive on this side of the grave.

But how foolish we are, dear friends, when we refuse to pray, instead squandering our time on things that will not be of help to us in times of trouble.  Or when we opt not to hear the Word of God, the good news of the Gospel, and turn down the Lord’s gift of Holy Communion because of competing pursuits and desires.  How sad it is when we opt to squander opportunities to read and study God’s Word and instead use that time for something that will not bring us help in time of need.

And even money itself can help us when it is used to advance the kingdom instead of only filling our bellies.  We should use our time, talent, and treasure in the service of God rather than sacrificing God for time, talent, or treasure.

Father Hamel’s life of struggle is over.  As a forgiven sinner, he is truly a saint, and one who is an example for us of confessing Christ in the face of the enemy.  He was ready to meet death and evil, even though he did not have much warning of what was to happen. 

Such is life in this fallen world, dear brothers and sisters, but we have a Friend in the highest of places, who truly desires that you be in communion with Him in this life, in daily and faithful prayer, in study of His Word, and in a continuous and ongoing commitment to receiving forgiveness, life, and salvation in this holy place. 

Be wise. Be shrewd.  And receive that which you don’t deserve but that which He nevertheless gives to you by grace.  And when those inevitable times of trouble come, you will find peace – the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Sermon: Consecration of Deacon Richard Iverson

Consecration of Deacon Richard Iverson

3 July 2016

Text: Acts 6:1-6 (Ex 20:1-17, Rom 6:1-11, Matt 5:17-26)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen. 

There are not many things we can count on, but one thing we certainly can count on is that history repeats itself.

In the aftermath of our Lord’s ascension, the apostles found themselves with the difficulty of confessing and preaching the faith in a pagan culture.  On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and thousands of people were converted through the Word of God.  Holy Baptisms took place as our Lord commanded the apostles: “Therefore, go and make disciples…”  The Lord’s Supper was administered every Sunday, with hymns and preaching and scripture readings.

But there were many things in the life of the early church that caused pastors to become so busy as to make it difficult to carry out the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

So, in Acts Chapter 6, in response to the needs of distributing charity, the pastors were overwhelmed.  So the apostles “summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables.  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid hands on them.”

These were the first deacons of the church.  And the first one mentioned, Stephen, was to become the first martyr of the church.

Deacons were very important in the New Testament.  St. Paul always greets them with the pastors.  In fact, in First Timothy, Paul lays out the qualifications for deacons, and they are nearly identical to the qualifications of pastors.

Over the centuries, as the Christian Church became the dominant religion, the role of the deacon sadly became diminished.  Sometimes, it was just a hoop to jump through in order to become a pastor.

But in modern times, churches began to once again appreciate the service of deacons.  In our sister church in Siberia, a man must serve at least five years as a deacon before ordination as a pastor.  But a deacon may remain a deacon and serve in that ministry for his whole life.  Wherever pastors are spread thin, the Lord has raised up deacons to serve the church and serve the pastor.  In fact, the word “deacon” means “servant.”  And it is a fitting custom that pastors be deacons as part of their formation.  I was consecrated a deacon while I served on vicarage.

I was once at a diaconal consecration in an Anglican church, and the preacher told the man being consecrated to remember that even if he were to become a priest, even if he were to become a bishop, he would always also remain a deacon, a servant.  Those are indeed wise words.  Our Lord Jesus taught us to be servant-leaders, and diaconal service is a way for a man to be a servant of the congregation and to help his pastor even though he is not called to preach and to administer sacraments.

And Rick, you may be wondering what you have gotten yourself into.  You may feel unworthy of this holy office.  You may question whether or not you are ready to wear the stole and be placed into this holy order.  And that is completely normal.  Of course, it is only by God’s grace and the blessing of the Holy Spirit that any of us can carry out the vocations to which we are all called.  The Lord cares for His church through servants of every kind, all living day to day by God’s grace, fueled by the Word and the Lord’s Supper, empowered by Baptism, and re-invigorated  through the Words of Absolution.  We are strengthened by prayer and fortified by study.

Rick, you stand in the train of the thousands of deacons who have come before you, even as you stand within the great cloud of witnesses of all of our brothers and sisters from every time and place who, by God’s grace, confess Christ, and are transformed by His blood shed upon the cross and given to us in the chalice.

Today, dear friends, we are reminded yet again that the Lord works through instruments, and He has promised to preserve His church and provide for her needs until the end of time.

We have heard anew the Ten Commandments, knowing that we do not keep them, knowing that they convict us of our sins, and reinforcing the fact that we need men to preach the Word and to absolve us.  We also know that our pastors cannot be everywhere at once, that the burdens of the office are great, and that some men, like St. Paul, must make tents in addition to carrying out the Holy Ministry.  And we know that with our time being limited, it is a great blessing to have deacons and other servants of the church whose service makes time for us pastors to proclaim Law and Gospel to the church and to bear that prophetic voice of right and wrong to a broken world.

We have heard anew St. Paul’s beautiful discourse on the forgiveness of sins and how that free and full gift is delivered through being baptized into Christ’s death.  And we know that for our pastors to be able to baptize, to catechize, to teach, to hear confessions and absolve sins, to visit the sick and bear with our parishioners’ burdens, to carry out marriages and funerals and administrative duties in the church, we need brothers and sisters in Christ to help us.  We have many people in this congregation who have answered that call, those who serve officially and unofficially on behalf of our parish’s needs.  And to have a deacon in the parish is one more way for us all to live out the baptismal life to which we have all been called.

We have heard anew our Lord’s reminder that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.  We are reminded of the importance of the entire counsel of God, Law and Gospel, of the importance of the Christian life as laid out in our teaching and in our doing; in our doctrine, and in our practice.  We are reminded of our need to be humble, as servants, as always on guard lest we fall into hypocrisy.  We are reminded to be a people of peace and reconciliation.  Once again, having the assistance of a deacon greatly helps the pastor in that endeavor to bid the congregation to not only believe in the Christian faith, but to walk the way of the Christian life.

Indeed, there are not many things we can count on, but one thing we certainly can count on is that history repeats itself.  Even as the early church found itself in a pagan culture, and even as the pastors were bogged down in matters like making a living in the secular world, overseeing church programs, and providing care for the flock, and even as the early church laid hands on men of good repute, full of the Spirit, and consecrated them as deacons, so also we do this today.  The church will always need deacons, and the Holy Spirit, by God’s grace, will continue to raise them up, provide for them, bless them, and consecrate their labors for the people of God.

And as St. Paul reminds us: “Those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Investiture of Deacon Richard Iverson